If you can’t think of anything wry, sly, faintly ironic, or even mildly amusing to say, then just signal that some really good albums have been released in the last few weeks and leave it at that.
Wye Oak – The Louder I Call, The Faster It Runs
The more you listen, the better it gets. For Wye Oak’s new album isn’t quite as immediate as some of its predecessors. Nonetheless, it’s well worth making your way up a very large sand dune in what aren’t the world’s most sensible shoes to listen to.
Kacey Musgraves – Golden Hour
There’s a lovely languorousness to much of Golden Hour, including the title track itself. For an album with country roots and acoustic melodies, it still knows how to get into a slightly spacey groove. And there’s a beautiful song about mothers too.
Laura Veirs – The Lookout
The Lookout is Laura Veirs’ best album for quite some time. Produced by Mr Laura Veirs, the great Tucker Martine, the arrangements are impeccable. And as if that’s not enough, there’s a cameo from the Oscar-nominated Sufjan Stevens as well.
Simone Felice – The Projector
Some artists can tell great stories, but Simone Felice is the master. “Billy Sinclair with the willowy hair, Breaks into Trinity Church on a dare, Where the pastor hides a camera, To capture the rapture, The day that it comes”. But something has changed. On his self-titled solo album six years ago, the tales were told to their often bitter end. Now, though, they tend to take an elliptical turn, leaving you alone with just your imagination for company. “Billy gets afraid and he runs, Don’t look in the back room until you get older, Let the projector run over and over, Over and over”. It’s every bit as compelling as before. But scarier. To help keep him safe, Simone Felice is accompanied here by Four Tet and Natasha Khan, whose own album he recently produced. Their presence fleshes out the strum of the guitar. The plaintiveness of the voice. And adds to the density of the story. Whether it’s a serious song about human trafficking. “You know all the orphan girls in those desert towns, Change their old names to Crystal and Destiny, There’s a man they call ‘The Prince’ and they pass his number around, Says he can get them on an airplane to Kennedy”. Or an equally serious song about everyday life. “Fix the lights, Fix the fridge, Fix the faucet, Fix the kids, Fix my worries, Fix my brain, Hang me out like a scarecrow, In the wind and the rain”. Whatever the subject, Simone Felice is the master story teller. And The Projector is a wonderful collection.
Mount Eerie – Now Only
Now Only is Phil Elverum’s second encomium to his wife, Geneviève, who died of cancer in 2016. Like its predecessor from last year, it’s a record that’s easier and perhaps even wiser to ignore than to put on and listen to for the first time. That’s because you know the simple act of pressing play will inevitably lead to intense and prolonged feelings of morbidity and loss. They’re inescapable and almost unbearable. But then you knew that when you decided to press play. Like A Crow Looked At Me before it, Now Only is a testament to the immediacy of grief and its “feral eruptions of sobbing”. It’s also a checklist of the everyday banality of death, which is no less upsetting. “I went and wrote a check and got a cardboard box, full of your ashes, and a little plastic bag with your necklace, and I drove back home truly alone.” Perhaps more so than last year’s record, though, it’s also an album that hints at the next part of the grieving process. The desire to keep the past as alive as it once was, but the recognition that it’s bound to disappear in its previous form. “I don’t want to live with this feeling any longer than I have to, but also I don’t want you to be gone”. And the realisation that the future will hold only imperfect memories of a life that once was. “I know that you are gone and that I’m carrying some version of you around, some untrustworthy old description in my memories”. Some albums are uplifting in their sadness. They make you feel less alone by making you aware that you’re like many others. Like its 2017 counterpart, though, Now Only is not one of those albums. “No. No one can understand. No. My devastation is unique.” But it’s still an absolutely beautiful album. A crushingly emotional album for sure. But then you knew that when you decided to press play.
Soccer Mommy – Clean
“You’re made from the stars”, sings Soccer Mommy. But she’s not thinking of Ronaldo or even his little brother Ronaldinho. Her mind is on other things. Whether it’s her friend Mary. “She’ll treat you like a fucking toy, She’ll break your heart and steal your joy”. Or just herself. “Baby I lost my faith, I kissed him on the second date”. This is an album of up-close observations on friends and relationships. Soccer Mommy is 20-year old Sophie Allison. With a history of more-or-less approximate home-recordings already under her belt, Clean is a different proposition altogether. For sure, there’s a certain nostalgia for how things were. The warping of the tape spool on ‘Cool’. The slightly uneven vocals in various places. But throughout there’s the confidence of an artist who’s mature beyond her years. “I don’t wanna be your fucking dog, That you drag around, A collar on my neck tied to a pole, Leave me in the freezing cold”. It’s difficult to argue with that. There are hints of early Sharon Van Etten or Angel Olsen about Soccer Mommy. And just sometimes you feel that in a few years the arrangements would be fleshed out even more. But for now, it’s more than fine. Because Soccer Mommy is already more than merely a passive observer. A figure on the sidelines. She’s a real player.
Scenic Route To Alaska – How It Feels
The last time we took the Scenic Route To Alaska was back in October when they were telling us to ‘Slow Down‘. Now, they’re back with a new album. Or nearly anyway. Tough Luck will be out in just a week’s time. Produced by Howard Redekopp of The New Pornographers fame, it promises to be another slice of wide-open Prairie Rock. That’s if the new single, ‘How It Feels’, is anything to go by. Written on the back of a tour, it sounds anything but jaded. With the band soon be heading back out on the road across their native Canada, the US, Germany and the Netherlands, let’s hope that further inspiration awaits. In the meantime, there’s a … wrestling video to enjoy!
Alela Diane – Cusp
The last time we crossed paths with Alela Diane was about five years ago. About Farewell was a bleak, but beautiful album that chronicled in no small detail the decline and fall of a relationship. Then, there was no looking forward, only back. And with a mix of both regret and resentment. Now, though, things are very different. With a new partner and two young children to boot, the focus is straight ahead. “I’d rather be an albatross, flying high, Than in the tail winds, looking back at what I left behind”. And the theme is unashamedly one of family. A new family. “She took shelter in my womb, And I felt her tiny feet, Kick me from the inside”. Creatively, of course, the fear is that domestic tranquility will always crowd out the ever popular tortured artist effect. And, for sure, this is not an album for the angry, the restless, or even the mildly irritated. But it is a very honest album nonetheless. Things come to a head on ‘Never Easy’, which describes how motherhood has led Alela Diane to reevaluate her relationship with her own mother. “I didn’t know how much you loved me, I didn’t know until I had my own little daughter”. It’s a very poignant admission. And it’s a sign that in its own very different way, Cusp is as revealing as its predecessor from five years back. Let’s hope we cross paths again sometime soon.
Summon the Birds – Blood Love
Summon the Birds liken their sound to “Talk Talk picking the locks to Spoon’s basement as The Drones circle”. But let’s declutter. Summon the Birds are a four-piece band from Melbourne, Australia. Blood Love is their second full-length release. They offer up a slightly woozy, somewhat proggy, little bit folky sound. But let’s declutter. Summon the Birds are on the wonderful Hidden Shoal label. They’re not afraid to give a song room to breathe, to let the lyrics tell a story, to create an epic sound. But let’s declutter. Summon the Birds’ new album is out on Friday. It’s worth checking out. Let’s go clutter.